Posts Tagged ‘ Pentagram ’

Album of the Week 10-2017: Pentagram – Bir

Around the time ‘Unspoken’ was released, Pentagram must have realized that there was a demand for their Turkish language songs, which the album lacked. So a year after that album, the band released ‘Bir’, a collection consisting entirely of songs in Turkish lyrics or without any lyrics at all. This also marked the shortest break between two albums in the band’s history. And while the traditional Turkish flair that makes the band so unique wasn’t entirely absent on ‘Unspoken’, it is featured significantly more prominently on ‘Bir’, albeit not in the overwhelming, over-emphasized manner that bands with similar influences often employ.

If there should be any criticism about ‘Bir’, it’s the fact that it should have been an EP. The two instrumental tracks ‘Mezarkabul’ and ‘For Those Who Died Alone’ are exactly the same as the versions on ‘Unspoken’ and are probably only there for conceptual reasons. They’re fine tracks as they are for sure, but that only leaves the listener with about half an hour of new music. The good news is that every single one of those minutes is excellent music and many of the songs featured on ‘Bir’ are still staples in Pentagram’s live set to this day.

Starting with the diptych of the instrumental intro ‘Tigris’ and the title track, a downright fantastic, upbeat heavy metal track calling for unity. This song is bound to drive a Turkish heavy metal crowd crazy and it’s easy to see why: its message, its catchy chorus and its simple, but brutally effective riffing is designed for a communal feeling. The thrashy ‘Bu Alemi Gören Sensin’ – which features guitarist Hakan Utangaç on lead vocals instead of the more soaring Murat İlkan – and ‘Şeytan Bunun Neresinde’ – which sounds like Metallica after a holiday to Turkey – feature traditional Turkish poems set to brand new music, something which works better than it may sound.

Less well known is ‘Sır’ and while it did take a while before the song grew on me, it is a monster of a slower metal track that manages to have both a symphonic and a somewhat industrial feel at the same time. It doesn’t quite sound like anything Pentagram has done before or since, but fits the darker vibe of the second half of ‘Bir’ really well. That vibe is further emphasized by the brilliantly brooding ‘Ölümlü’, which features what is quite likely İlkan’s most “evil” sounding performance ever in its verses.

While it may be intimidating to buy an album with four instrumental tracks of which the longest two have been previously released, ‘Bir’ is still a very worthy addition to any metal collection. For one because it emphasizes Pentagram’s unique, yet familiar style and it solidifies the band’s status in their home country, where they are viewed as the number one metal band. It’s easy to see why: the guys are excellent songwriters and will never let flashy instrumental egos get in the way of a good melody and a memorable chorus. You’re guaranteed to have them stuck in your head even if you don’t speak a single word of Turkish.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bir’, ‘Şeytan Bunun Neresinde’, ‘Ölümlü’

Album of the Week 39-2016: Pentagram – Unspoken

Pentagram’s second album with the excellent singer Murat İlkan was the last one that was released internationally, albeit under the band name Mezarkabul outside of Turkey to avoid confusion with the American Doom Metal band Pentagram. The fact that the record contained songs in English exclusively raises the suspicion that the band was still aiming for the international market, but luckily, the Middle-Eastern scales and slight Folk leanings – emphasizsed by the ney playing courtesy of session musician İlhan Baruçu – are still present in Pentagram’s well-written, mostly midtempo Heavy Metal. ‘Unspoken’ is not too complex, yet has a depth many bands in the genre should envy.

While the record isn’t quite as adventurous as its direct predecessor ‘Anatolia’, ‘Unspoken’ does a good job consolidating Pentagram’s style. Up until this point, the band was searching for their comfort zone, incorporating elements of Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Power Metal and even some progressive touches. Here, the band really found its style. The tempo is never really high, but that gives the melodies and İlkan – Turkey’s Bruce Dickinson – all the room they need to shine. The aggression is mainly limited to Hakan Utangaç’s incredibly crunchy rhythm guitar, but since the songs are so strong, that really isn’t a problem.

If there ever was a true opening salvo on a Pentagram record, it’s here. After the excellent intro ‘We Come From Nowhere’, ‘In Esîr Like An Eagle’ is probably the ultimate opening track the band ever recorded. Epic Heavy Metal to the max with relatively simple, but brutally effective riffs and one of İlkan’s finest vocal performances to date. After the crushing heaviness of the title track, ‘Lions In A Cage’ is probably the most Middle-Eastern sounding song on the record and one of the highlights in Pentagram’s discography. ‘For The One Unchanging’ manages to be progressive and extremely passionate at the same time.

The instrumental ‘Mezarkabul’ – which, like the outro ‘For Those Who Died Alone’, is good, but slightly too long – functions as sort of an act break, after which the slightly more experimental second half of the album follows. As a result, it’s somewhat less memorable, although the heartfelt ‘This Too Will Pass’ has a chorus that won’t leave your head. ‘Pain’ is probably the most Doomy track the Turks have ever recorded and ‘Puratu’ features a highly progressive middle section. The guitar solos courtesy of Onur ‘Cat’ Pamukçu and Metin Türkcan – the latter of which joined as a fulltime member shortly after the album’s release – really stand out here.

Regardless of what name graces the cover, anyone who comes across ‘Unspoken’ – or really anything the band released after the mid-nineties – should get it. Not many bands these days have as much character as Pentagram does and unlike many contemporary Metal bands, they don’t need an overload of intricate riffs or clashing styles to create a rich, interesting sound. And they’re not quite as highbrow about their cultural heritage as some other bands from the region are: the influence is there, it just blends with the Heavy Metal sound perfectly. Worth a listen for anyone bored with the uniformity of contemporary western Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Lions In A Cage’, ‘In Esîr Like An Eagle’, ‘For The One Unchanging’

Album of the Week 24-2014: Şebnem Ferah – Can Kırıkları

Turkey’s Rock scene has quite a number of great female singers. Two of the most influential have once played together in an all-female band called Volvox. But while Özlem Tekin has been all over the map stylistically on her solo releases, Şebnem Ferah’s work has always rocked. However poppy it sometimes gets. Especially since she started working with producer – and Pentagram bassist – Tarkan Gözübüyük, who seems to realize that even though Ferah is proficient at all the subtleties of Pop music, her powerhouse vocals work best when she has to push her way to the foreground through loud guitars and string backings.

If it’s Gözübüyük’s influence or just the fact that Ferah wrote heavier songs this time around, I truly can’t tell, but it’s a fact that ‘Can Kırıkları’ has the heaviest guitar work on any Şebnem Ferah album so far. One doesn’t need to look any further than the dark, brooding opening track ‘Okyanus’ to hear that direction in full effect; the unpredictably timed chords by Metin Türkcan – another Pentagram member – add an almost Dream Theater-like feel to the verses and the riff in the middle section is extremely Metal, but Ferah’s keen ear for melody keeps this accessible. That’s why the album works for fans of both Pop and Rock. Possibly even Metal fans.

‘Can Kırıkları’ isn’t chock full of Metal though. Ferah is quite likely the best power ballad singer in Turkey and there’s quite a lot of those here. Some are a little heavier (the title track, with its heavy chorus and awesome orchestration) and some are a little more subdued (closing track ‘Hoşçakal’, although Ferah herself really lets it rip there) and there’s even an acoustic-based Rock song in the shape of the awesome ‘Çakıl Taşları’. Ultimately, it’s those changes in dynamics that make the album enjoyable all the way through.

My favorite Şebnem Ferah song – not just on this album – is ‘Delgeç’. That song alone is a lesson in dynamics; it starts out with a mighty Power Metal melody, turns into Pop Rock for the verses in which Ferah occasionally harmonizes with herself amazingly and then gets back to all the heavy riffing in the chorus, which has a lot of tension and drama to it. Though Ferah wrote a number of amazing songs after this one, it’s still the one I’ll play people to show what she’s about. It’s quite illustrative of how many sides there are to her voice and songwriting.

As with many Turkish releases – especially the ones with Turkish lyrics – it’s quite difficult to find this one outside of Turkey, but I would urge everyone with any interest in good Rock music or powerful female vocals to try and pick ‘Can Kırıkları’ up. If you want to get your money’s worth for shipping, get Ferah’s latest effort ‘Od’ as well. This is an example to all western producers of female Rock singers that you don’t have to castrate the music to make your singer stand out. It’s also a testament to Şebnem Ferah’s unbelievable skills as a singer and a songwriter.

Recommended tracks: ‘Delgeç’, ‘Can Kırıkları’, ‘Çakıl Taşları’, ‘Okyanus’

Album of the Week 36-2013: Ogün Sanlısoy – Ben

After Ogün Sanlısoy left Pentagram, he became fairly popular in his homeland Turkey with mainly acoustic based Pop music. That music wasn’t bad by any means, but it always left wonder what his massively improved voice would sound like with a heavier, more Rock-based backing. ‘Üç’ already gave the electric guitar a more prominent place within the music, but ‘Ben’ is an album that truly shows Sanlısoy as a Hard Rock singer first and foremost. Even the ballads have a distinct eighties Hard Rock vibe. This makes ‘Ben’ Sanlısoy’s finest effort so far.

Of course, ‘Ben’ isn’t just a Rock record like many others. First and foremost, there is a distinct Turkish vibe on this record and that is an aspect I like very much. It’s not even in the lyrics, because there definitely are some songs that could have done well on the American market if they had English lyrics, but Sanlısoy does some vocal acrobatics that would be impossible or at the very least incredibly difficult for western vocalists and the Middle-Eastern strings heard on ‘Bu Ne Biçim Aşk’ and ‘İstanbul Sular Altında’ add an irrestistable Middle-Eastern, mystical vibe to the songs.

Although Sanlısoy himself wrote all the music to the record, I won’t believe that his guitarist Aytek Akçakaya had no influence on what ‘Ben’ sounds like. His guitars – which sound great by the way, they have just the perfect amount of distortion – are all over this record and make the album as much as Sanlısoy’s vocals. It’s his riffwork that makes many of the albums finest rocking moments, such as the mystical ‘Anma Arkadaş’, the awesome title track, the riff rocker ‘Küçük Mafya’ and the modern Metal of ‘Çek’.

The ballads on ‘Ben’ are quite large in number, but they’re quite good. As I’ve already stated, many of them have a heavy eighties Hard Rock ballad atmosphere, but without the huge layer of cheese that made Cinderella and Poison so nauseating. Midway through the album, there are three ballads right after each other, which almost feels like overkill. And granted, it was a daring move by Sanlısoy, but two of them are the best ballads on here; ‘Son Kez’ and ‘Yalnız Gittin’, both excellently written ballads with a very strong build-up. And when the closing salvo of ‘İstanbul Sular Altında’ and the simple, yet very powerful Hard Rockers ‘Gidenlerden’ and ‘Yukarıya Bak’, which are edited like they form a two-parter.

Production-wise, ‘Ben’ is near flawless. I would have doubled Akçakaya’s guitars at some points where it isn’t, but apart from that, this sounds great. Sertan Soğukpinar’s drum sound is one of the best I’ve ever heard on a modern Rock production. All this adds to a very pleasant listening experience. ‘Ben’ is a record that should be heard by any Rock fan worldwide. It’s just a shame it’s so hard to get outside of Turkey.

Recommended tracks: ‘Anma Arkadaş’, ‘Bu Ne Biçim Aşk’, ‘Gidenlerden’

Album of the Week 08-2013: Pentagram – Anatolia

While Turkey’s Pentagram never was a band to release the same type of album twice, ‘Anatolia’ was a step forward from their first two efforts. With the arrival of Murat İlkan’s fantastic vocal range, the band shifted from Thrash Metal towards a mid-tempo, somewhat progressive Power Metal sound with a lot of room for influences from their native country. Being a big fan of oriental influences in Heavy Metal, ‘Anatolia’ completely blew my mind the first time I heard it, but even fans of somewhat more “casual” Power Metal should admit that this is a spectacular album.

Part of what makes ‘Anatolia’ so amazing is the focus on the actual songs rather than speed, blazing leads and rolling double bass drums. There are still some hints of the sound heard on the first two albums (‘Welcome The End’, ‘On The Run’), but Hakan Utangaç’s and Demir Demirkan’s riffs on this album are closer to Candlemass than Slayer, the traditional Turkish instruments like the saz, the bendir and the ney were nowhere to be found on the earlier releases and there is a much stronger focus on melody than ever before, no doubt helped by the introduction of a singer who facilitates them to do so.

Regardless of what label you would give Pentagram’s music, the songs speak for themselves. Though the entire hour the album lasts is nothing short of brilliant, there’s some songs that stand out. For instance, there’s the progressive masterpiece ‘Behind The Veil’, of which the opening riff suggests a Thrasher, but it eventually turns into a brilliantly sung, melodic track with a passionate chorus and some fantastic twists. ‘1000 In The Eastland’ is a dark semi-Thrasher and an anti-war statement. ‘Fall Of A Hero’ is a powerful, eighties USPM inspired semi-ballad, ‘Stand To Fall’ and ‘Give Me Something To Kill The Pain’ are somewhat more conventional Hardrock songs that make amazing use of multiple layers of vocals and ‘∞’ is a beautiful acoustic ballad sung in Turkish.

Speaking of the Turkish language, ‘Anatolia’ is where Pentagram first started releasing tracks in Turkish and I tend to like those the most. Case in point: ‘Anatolia’ itself is presented in both English and Turkish here. When listening to it individually, I usually put on the Turkish version. Somehow I like that one better, though both versions are musically identical. Either way, it’s a brilliant song. Also, Pentagram covers the immensely populair Turkish traditional ‘Gündüz Gece’ here. A simply fantastic rendition of a beautiful song.

‘Anatolia’ is the album that made Pentagram (or Mezarkabul, if you want to be strict for any country outside of Turkey) the band they are today. It’s a spectacular, powerful and melodic Heavy Metal album with stellar vocals and a distinct oriental touch. This is a record that makes the best elements of east and west come together and as such is an incredibly enjoyable record. Seriously, you’ll have to hear it to believe it. The time that the best Metal bands were from the US, England, Germany and Scandinavia is over, taking a look at Israel and Turkey may be just as rewarding.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Veil’, ‘1000 In The Eastland’, ‘∞’, ‘Anatolia’

Album of the Week 44-2012: Pentagram – MMXII

Not every band can get through the process of replacing an iconic singer without any damage. When the amazing Murat İlkan sadly left the band, Turkey’s Pentagram did the right thing and replaced him with Gökalp Ergen, who has a completely different timbre. And that also grants the band the chance to take things in a slightly different direction. ‘MMXII’ is still instantly recognizable as Pentagram, albeit slightly more direct and less elaborate arrangement-wise than on their more progressive works with İlkan. ‘MMXII’ is first and foremost a Metal album. A good one. Pentagram style.

Ergen is rawer in the more Metal passages and more akin to the better Turkish pop singers in the cleaner passages. This sounds like somewhat of a contradiction, but the band uses these extremes to great effect on this album. As much as I love İlkan’s powerful vocals, I wouldn’t hear him doing stuff like ‘Wasteland’ and parts of ‘Beyond Insanity’ as fierce as Ergen does them. Also, the softer regions of his voice work extremely well with the Turkish material on this album. I can’t, for instance, picture any better singer for a song like the melancholic ‘Geçmişin Yükü’. I have somehow always felt very attracted especially to the Turkish Pentagram songs and somehow, it does make a lot of sense with Ergen at the helm.

‘MMXII’ is a relatively heavy album by Pentagram standards. The guitars by Metin Türkcan and founding member Hakan Utangaç are heavy and crunchy and stuff like ‘Wasteland’, ‘Beyond Insanity’ and to a lesser extent opening track ‘Sand’ are probably the heaviest the band has done since the humble Thrash beginnings of the first two albums. This isn’t without a strong sense of melody, however. This album is best when the heavy riffs blend with the hypnotizing melodies.

My favorite tracks are the more epic ones. ‘Doğmadan Önce’ has a brooding atmosphere and a beautiful chorus that could have only come from a Turkish band, and not only because the song is in Turkish. The acoustic intro to the song is downright spine chilling and there are some awesome twin guitar harmonies throughout the song. The killer guitar solos do the rest of the work. ‘It’s Dawn Again’ shows Ergen at his most passionate in the chorus, while being backed by riffs that seem easy, but leave a lot of room to impressive nuance. ‘Ápokalips’ is a killer, stomping epic, ‘Now And Nevermore’ has a great build-up and melodic sensibility and ‘Uzakta’ is a very strong Turkish Metal song with another great guitar solo.

Why any European label has consistently refused to release Pentagram’s post ‘Unspoken’ output is beyond me. This is a band that doesn’t only rate among one of the best Oriental Metal bands, this is absolutely one of the greatest bands on the planet at the moment. They have strong songs, a great singer, extremely capable musicians and a unique sound influenced by their home ground. Many bands try and emulate the oriental sounds within their Metal framework, but the guys in Pentagram live and breathe these melodies. They never forget they’re a Metal band, however. Now go out and see if you can find ‘MMXII’ somewhere. Like the rest of Pentagram’s discography, it’s worth the effort.

Recommended tracks: ‘Doğmadan Önce’, ‘It’s Dawn Again’, ‘Ápokalips’